An Interview with a Metallurgist

“What you don’t know is hurting your bottom line.”



Edmund Schwenk is a Metallurgist and CEO of PGM Recovery Systems, Inc. For more than 30 years, he has been engaged in the processing/refining/manufacturing of precious metals. Schwenk shared his insight about precious metals and converter recycling in today’s market.

How would you describe precious metals recycling as it relates to the catalytic converter market? “I see two sides to the industry, the accumulator side and the smelter side. In between these two sides sits processors. You have generators of scrap with buyers/accumulators up and down the supply chain. The accumulators are totally unfamiliar with how the smelter side effects the value of the auto catalyst in converters nor how it impacts the converters they sell. At some point all these converters will be cut and decanned to liberate the monolith/honeycomb for further processing. Unless the processor is furnacing this monolith; they would be considered an intermediary between the accumulator and the smelter. These intermediaries have fixed operating costs associated with handling your material and must pass this cost down the supply chain.”

What do you think of the phone apps as far as receiving the best prices for whole converters? “For the accumulator of converters these apps help to establish market pricing between buyers and sellers. Unfortunately, they are not accurate for a variety of reasons. They can never dictate the true value of converters which can only be accomplished with analytical data from smelters. The most important and true baseline of value is the final assay from the smelter.”

Do you think accumulators are better off selling whole converters? “Well, every recycling industry needs accumulators, however, when they sell they will never be able to receive the high value of their converters. Many sell for cash but if they de-canned their used converters and implemented our methodology and recommendations they would be shocked as to the real value of their converters.”

If I am selling to a refiner have I reached the top of the market? “There are a lot of different precious metal bearing feedstocks processed by refiners. It depends upon their equipment and which material these companies focus upon. Generally, only a few companies conduct furnacing operations for catalytic converter monolith. Those that do not furnace conduct sample preparation, analysis and payment to the customer. This prepared monolith now in powdered form will then be sent out to a smelter for further processing. Short answer, no you have not reached the top of the market.”

You have stated on your website “Sampling is an art. Assaying is a science!” What do you mean by that statement? “If you don’t understand how sampling works then you can’t fathom how it affects your assays. Actually the smelter has an advantage in sampling. With the right education we show you how to nullify this advantage. The science of fire assaying has been fine-tuned over hundreds of years. The last fifty years with the addition of ICP instrumental techniques capable of reading in the parts per million range extreme accuracy is repeatable. The art of sampling requires proper equipment and a complete understanding of the matrix of materials being sampled. If conditions are not correct SAMPLING BIAS occurs and improper samples end up in the laboratory for analysis. Remember if the precious metals are underrepresented in the sample you will not get paid for it! In this area you will benefit the most with our help.”

I don’t fully understand this process. What do I need to know to be sure I am making correct decisions? “First, if you are selling in the can you are leaving substantial money on the table. Second, if you are sending cats out for cutting, you are not dealing direct with the end processor the smelter. Third, if you are cutting and sending monolith to a refiner, again you are not avoiding SAMPLING BIAS, plus you may not be dealing with the end processor who furnaces the monolith. Finally, technically speaking if you are unaware of SAMPLING BIAS and how it occurs, and the negative affects it has on your bottom line then you need to deal with a company that can help you.”

What is SAMPLING BIAS? “Samples are taken and brought to the laboratory for analysis. SAMPLING BIAS occurs under many different conditions. Particle size, homogenization techniques, types of equipment used, vast differences in specific gravity between platinum group metals and the substrate monolith all affect sampling bias. Importantly during the transport (conveyance) of homogenized prepared monolith, classification also known as segregation negatively affect samples. This bias can be overcome, and we can show you how!”

You seem to focus a lot on the smelter side of the converter industry. Why is that? “As an extractive metallurgist, I must understand the functions of the smelter to derive the highest value for auto catalyst on behalf of our loyal clients. Everyone in the market has been focused solely on terms. But terms alone will not dictate the highest value for auto catalyst. Remember a percent here or a charge there on a term sheet does not overcome issues involving precious metal under representation in your laboratory samples! SAMPLING BIAS during the art of sampling is the cause of this under representation and no one in this industry is talking about it!”

What are your thoughts concerning the catalytic converter recycling industry? “It is certainly a growth industry! We saw 25 million converters recycled in North America in 2015. We project this market to increase to about 35 million recycled by 2025. But you know there has been so much misinformation in the industry that it is difficult for companies to accept the truth of how they can substantially make more profit recycling converters. Only those who will not hold preconceived ideas and are willing to listen to logic will be rewarded.”

How can you help the industry further? “I would like to encourage everyone to visit our website at www.pgmrecoverysystems.com. You will find information not generally available and answers too many of your questions. Certainly, reach out to our company for an in-depth discussion on how PGM Recovery Systems can help you.”

Early in his career Ed Schwenk received training in a laboratory setting as an Assayer utilizing classical fire assay, crucible fusion and cupellation techniques. This coupled with in plant manufacturing process experiences led to advancement as Senior Vice President in charge of precious metals refinery operations for Pure Metals Corporation. Ed’s unique experience in precious metals processing technologies has benefitted PGM Recovery Systems, Inc. through the development of two disruptor technologies for use in the auto catalyst recycling sector.

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